Law-enforcement professionalism and political will | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 10, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 10, 2011

Straight Line

Law-enforcement professionalism and political will

While commenting on serious police malfeasance of committing extortion, The Daily Star post-editorial of August 24 very candidly observes that non-implementation of police reforms "raises misgiving in the public mind that a thoroughbred reform of the police might keep them above politicisation" and "that may be the reason why no political party is serious on this score."
Experts are of the view that the police and the political executive are bound together in the common endeavour of preventing and investigating crime, maintaining law and order and ensuring that the people have a well-functioning essential service that protects life, property and liberty. The roles, powers and responsibilities of both the police and the executive must, therefore, be properly articulated in order for policing to work in an efficient, unbiased and responsive manner.
Cynical observers, however, are of the considered view that politicians do not want to professionalise the police because control over it is central in a polarised society. Ironically, our political leaders who since 1947 occupied positions of power were enamoured by the administrative and police system left behind and enjoyed exercising power and authority, oblivious of their own demand of yesteryears for far-reaching administrative reforms. The periods of unconstitutional rule in Bangladesh brought out in full virulence the repressive role of the inherited police system.
In Bangladesh, political manipulation, especially between 1991 - 2006, led to decline in discipline and senior officers were often unable to control undisciplined juniors with political connections. A situation developed wherein intrusion of politics into matters of police management led to solicitation of further political influence. Pervasive disillusionment, loss of pride and collegiality was the result.
The establishment has to realise and appreciate that politicisation of the police, its unaccountability to the people and its outdated managerial practices largely result from lack of professionalism and accountability within the organisation. Political misuse of the police has been the direct result of internal organisational problems and poor performance. One cannot, however, lay all the blame on the political class, ignoring the negative role of the police leadership.
For the British, the maintenance of their rule in India was the prime consideration. Crime control was only a secondary objective to be achieved through fear of the police. The Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act put in place a legal framework and a police force equipped for the maintenance of British rule by force. The Penal Code prioritises offences against the state and the maintenance of public order. It begins consideration of traditional crime only from Section 299 onwards. The Criminal Procedure Code begins with the "arrest of persons" and the "maintenance of public order and tranquility" before getting to grips with criminal procedure relating to investigation and trial.
We have to remember that the Police Act of 1861, despite its preamble, prioritises collection and communication of intelligence affecting the public peace. The prevention and detection of crime is included among the duties of the police only in section 23 of the Act. The Act further provides for punitive policing at the cost of local residents in the event of "disturbances" and for the appointment of private persons as special police officers.
It would be relevant to remember that our political leaders have failed to introduce administrative changes in tune with the provisions of the republican Constitution of Bangladesh. The police remained distant from the people and are as disliked as before.
It is very important to note that the blanket power of superintendence vested in the government by the Police Act, 1861, is not appropriate in a democracy. Further, the role of intelligence agencies has not been redefined to protect the fundamental right to freedoms of association, expression and movement. The police in Bangladesh still keep a watch on all political activities without discrimination and exclude only the ruling party of the day, which gives them authoritarian powers antithetical to the democratic spirit.
There is no denying that in a democracy police could not be wholly autonomous and political intervention is both inevitable and necessary to some extent. Therefore, there is a need to specify areas where government interference is justified and others where it is not. The recommendation of setting up of Security Commissions/Public Safety Commission as proposed in the new police ordinance can do this job effectively as its members are likely to be non-political persons. The enactment of a new police law brooks no further delay.

The writer is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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